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Light and Shade

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

There is a poem that I remember from childhood and when I looked it up today, I discovered that in fact it is a hymn written by Annie Johnson Flint. She was born in 1866 on Christmas Eve, and lived a life of both emotional and physical pain. From an early age she experienced the loss of parents - both biological and adopted - and became crippled through chronic illness, unable to move and wheelchair bound. However, her faith and compassion for others were a source of inspiration, and as a result, she wrote serval hymns in response to the darkness and light in her life.

I am by no means Annie Johnson Flint, and I can only imagine how hard her life must have been, especially living in the late 1800’s where attitudes and lifestyles were so far removed from what we know today. But this poem came to mind as I’ve had a difficult two weeks, nothing devastating, simply real, ordinary life. And it struck me how life is full of light and shade, sunshine and shadows. It isn’t usually life changing or earth shattering, but there are daily trials that can wear us down. These past weeks have been a combination of excruciating toothache whilst on a beautiful weekend away in the city of Worcester, the tears of my son in pain from a stomach bug with the cuddles and affection he so needed, the cold wet Welsh rain with the heat and glow of burning our first logs of the season and, the worry of an unexpected gas leak, thankfully capped and made safe quickly by our plumber.

Over the years I have avoided discomfort at all costs. I have pushed it down, deep inside and worn a bright smile or stiff upper lip. Answering the question “How are you?” with the classic “Fine thanks.” Not wanting to be seen as less than for any suffering, not wanting to complain or burden others with my trivial woes! Rather than being honest with myself and the people around me, I have lied and hidden my truth. That hasn’t served me well, and certainly came back to bite me! But gradually over the past few years I have learnt to be truthful when someone asks the question “How are you?”. I may not give them my life story, but I will own the possible shadows that are in my life at that moment. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine, and that’s OK.

This past week I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Olivia Shone. She is a wellbeing, meditation, and yoga teacher here in the UK. Through her practice she reminds herself and others of the beauty and truth in embracing life in all its fullness. We had a wonderful conversation, about the value of suffering and how, in our Western culture, we tend to avoid discomfort at all costs, even if that means hiding parts of our true self, merely existing rather than fully living.

Olivia's story is extraordinary and deeply moving. Her husband James was diagnosed in his early forties with a massive brain tumour which has left him virtually blind. This diagnosis and the subsequent operation to remove 50% of the tumour has been life changing, altering the course of their lives and bringing with it daily challenges. There is pain and loss in her story, but, as we talk, Olivia shares how her faith has been a cornerstone in helping her accept and adopt a different posture and attitude to life’s difficulties. She points out, there is both truth and beauty in honouring the suffering we experience and, as difficult as it may be, a full life is knowing and acknowledging both joy and pain.

So, I encourage you this week, to own whatever it is you are going through. This may be difficult, and you may have to push past the rote answer of “Fine thanks”. But there is a freedom in accepting the tough times, it is not resignation, but an honouring of life in all its fullness. It is truly living. I’ll leave you with the words of Annie Johnson Flint, she says it far better than I do. Now, where did I put my umbrella and wellies?!

God hath not promised skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God hath not promised sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God hath promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labour, light for the way,

Grace for the trials, help from above,

Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

God hath not promised we shall not know

Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;

He hath not told us we shall not bear

Many a burden, many a care.

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,

Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;

Never a mountain, rocky and steep,

Never a river, turbid and deep.

But God hath promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labour, light for the way,

Grace for the trials, help from above,

Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

The story of James and Olivia can be found at

Image via Unsplah

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